We’ve discussed ad infinitum Antonio Conte’s future with Chelsea football club. As of Sunday evening, he’s officially still on Chelsea’s payroll. By the time you read this, that may have changed.
If it hasn’t, three options remain for Chelsea. Two of them, we’ve gone over many times. But there’s a third that we haven’t really discussed and which needs to be considered. By the way, it’s the worst option of them all.
The first option seems to be the trendiest. That’s to fire Conte and his staff and pay them the up to £9 million in total severance pay (until they’re re-hired by someone else). After that, hire a coach — possibly invoking a €8m buyout, if it’s Maurizio Sarri — and start over. A clean slate. The benefit is changing what has become a toxic atmosphere. The drawback is the cost, especially if it’s Sarri. Chelsea are determined to balance their books, they’ll be missing a Champions League payout next season and they likely have plans to spend this summer. Firing Conte puts a crimp in all of that.
The second option still has some support, too. That’s to keep Conte, reload with the kind of players he thinks he needs to be successful, and take another run at a title next season. The benefit is that a happy Conte is an excellent coach. He’s won two trophies in two years at Chelsea, including his first-ever knock-out competition cup. He knows the league, the players and, even in this miserable season, he managed to beat three of the top four. Only City were unconquerable, and a combined scoreline of 2-0 in our league games against them hardly suggests that they’ll crush Chelsea. The downside is obvious — can he keep the dressing room and the ownership onside after the scars inflicted this season?
On the face of it, that seems to cover all the scenarios. But there’s actually a third one. And it’s terrible.
The third option is that the standoff between Conte and Chelsea is never resolved. He refuses to take a penny less than his £9m. Chelsea refuse to sack him and eat the expense, because they’re serious about cleaning-up their books. Neither side is happy, neither side is able to forge a compromise or make peace. The summer transfer window is OK but not spectacular. And we enter the season with a gloomy Conte who is determined to uphold his vow to meet the terms of his contract.
That, of course, would be a disaster. If he thinks he’s lost Willian, Hazard, possibly Courtois and Luiz now, wait until we go down to Perth with all of our major internal issues put off. Toxic barely begins to describe what the atmosphere would be like, particularly once the intense pressure of the Premier League is applied to the chemical reaction. It could become explosive.
The nicest way to put it, is that it would become a lost season. It might cost us Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois. It would make Chelsea a very unattractive place to work for managers and players, possibly beyond next season. Dare I say it, relegation could loom as a possibility. If it came to that, Conte’s £9m buyout would look puny compared to the lost revenue.
The third option is such a bad option that Chelsea are surely unlikely to embrace it. But if we’re going to be thorough about examining our managerial situation, we have to acknowledge that it exists, even if it’s only in theory.